How can cyclists, motorists prevent deadly crashes?

Treasure Valley leaders see education and better awareness as the keys to safer streets.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comNovember 13, 2013 

  • RECENT INCIDENTS

    The most recent crash injuring a local cyclist or pedestrian involved a Boise driver who failed to yield Wednesday, striking a pedestrian crossing Myrtle Street on 13th Street. The motorist was turning right onto Myrtle and struck the man in the crosswalk.

    The victim was taken to a Boise hospital with injuries that weren't life-threatening, police said. The driver was cited. No names were released.

    The most recent death resulting from such a crash involved Caldwell resident Carlos Garcia, 66, who died Saturday, four days after he was struck while jaywalking on 11th Avenue in Nampa. The driver, who was not cited, was unable to stop in time.

This story has a correction: It originally misspelled the names of Margaret Havey with the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and Jimmy Hallyburton with the Boise Bicycle Project.

For generations, Hill Road in North Boise has been popular with bicyclists who like to ride the meandering route beneath the Foothills and avoid the busier State Street.

But as Boise has grown from 75,000 people in 1970 to more than 212,000 today, more car and truck traffic has shifted to secondary routes. And with the growing population has come an increase in the number of bicyclists out on the road.

Even in the past few years, their ranks grew from 1,073 in 2006 to 7,285 in spring 2012, according to rider counts conducted by Ada County, the Ada Bike Alliance and the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance.

"Hill Road is never going to go back to the way it was years ago," said Margaret Havey, vice president of the TVCA.

After a series of recent crashes that left two bicyclists and four pedestrians dead, and injured more members of both groups, community leaders are seeking ways to make Treasure Valley roads safer. Their efforts included a summit on the matter last week and outreach efforts by local law enforcement.

The solutions might not be simple. Law enforcement and other experts said last month that there isn't one factor behind this year's string of injuries and deaths.

TEACH SAFE DRIVING

Marcus Orton and Lisa Brady of the Boise Bicycle Project have arranged to talk with driving students at Boise High School, and hope to expand the program to other public and private driver's education courses.

"These kids ask the best questions because they rode their bikes there and now they're driving in a car," Orton said. "I think they're a great group to educate because once they get their license, they understand walking in someone else's shoes."

Liz Caughlin, a history teacher at North Junior High, suggested producing a series of safety videos that could grab the attention of younger students.

"Most of them don't get driver's education until ninth grade. It would be nice to talk about that when they're younger," she said.

About 8,000 Meridian students in third and eighth grades were given lessons in bicycle safety last year, Orton said. District schools are continuing those lessons this year.

WORK WITH LAWMAKERS

In 2011 — one year after the federal government changed how it tracks fatal crashes — distraction contributed to 10 percent of road fatalities, roughly 3,300 deaths. That's according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and covers fatal crashes of all types, not just involving bikes or pedestrians.

Jimmy Hallyburton of the Boise Bicycle Project urged those gathered at last week's summit to make distracted driving a priority.

"The cycling community needs to come together and say, 'Here are some things that need to be done, that may be out of our hands, but may be in the hands of our legislature, our local governments, our traffic departments,' " Hallyburton said.

Talking on a cellphone is dangerous for both drivers and cyclists, he said.

Oregon, Washington and California ban drivers from talking on their phones unless they have a hands-free system. Hallyburton noted that Sandpoint, in North Idaho, has also enacted a talking ban that goes beyond Idaho's prohibition on texting while driving.

TRACK CRASHES BETTER

Bicycle advocates would like to see a smartphone application for submitting details about bicycle crashes.

Nearly three years ago, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association in Washington, D.C., developed an online reporting system. Last January, it created a smartphone application for the same purpose. Details on more than 200 crashes have been submitted, said Greg Billing, the group's advocacy director.

The information helps the group identify trouble spots and determine areas to advocate for improvements.

Billing suggested that Boise and Ada County consider installing cycle tracks — physical barriers to separate cars and trucks from bicycles.

Washington, D.C., places bicycle lanes to the right of parallel parking spaces, so parked cars are between moving traffic and bicyclists. The same system is in place for bicyclists exiting a section closed to vehicles at the University of Oregon in Eugene and heading onto a city street.

"Those have worked well," Billing said.

TALK TO OFFENDERS

Last week, the Boise Police Department began an occasional series of foot patrols, with officers talking with jaywalkers about the need to use crosswalks to be safe.

The first day focused on Front Street between the Ada County Courthouse and Capitol Boulevard.

"That's a problem area for pedestrians," police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said.

Officers also looked for motorists pulling out in front of pedestrians using crosswalks.

No citations were issued, Hightower said.

"We want to educate people. It's a matter of trying to look out for the other guy and keeping yourself safe," she said.

Police also received clip-on bicycle lights from the Ada County Highway District and are handing them out free to riders spotted pedaling in the dark. In a news release, Deputy Chief Pete Ritter said the program has already been a hit.

The lights are also available in the Boise Police administrative offices at Boise City Hall West, 333 N. Mark Stall Place.

"Visibility is the key. Make yourself visible if you're a bicyclist or a pedestrian," Hightower said. "And if you're a motorist, look for more than just other cars."

BUILD ON ADA COUNTY'S BIKE NETWORK

Since 2009, ACHD has planned bicycle improvements through the adoption of the Roadways to Bikeways Master Plan. The plan has a goal of providing a bicycle route, bike lane or other improvements within a quarter-mile of 95 percent of Ada County residents.

The county has 128 miles of bicycle lanes (256 miles if counted in both directions). The total has more than quadrupled since the mid-1990s.

The district plans to add more than 400 miles of bike lanes on every major route and 340 miles of signed bike routes — where cyclists and motorists can comfortably share the road — over the next four decades, district spokesman Craig Quintana said.

The district is also focusing on increasing the number of curbs and sidewalks.

"There was a period in the 1950s and '60s when the nonautomobile infrastructure was neglected," Quintana said. "We really needed to make up for lost time."

Ada County is one of four counties nationwide recognized as Bicycle Friendly by the League of American Bicyclists. The others are Jackson and Teton counties in Wyoming and Grand County in Utah.

The awards are based on providing safe accommodation for cycling and encouraging people to bike for transportation and recreation.

The Wood River Valley in Blaine County, the city of Coeur d'Alene and Boise State University were also honored for being bicycle-friendly.

"It's one of the best alternative modes of transportation out there," Quintana said.

A GOOD START

Ritter said he was impressed by the exchange among the 75 people who attended last week's brainstorming summit.

"I thought it was a pretty productive meeting. There were a lot of committed people there," Ritter said.

The participants recognize, however, that their ideas are just a start. Anyone who would like to submit suggestions for improving safety can write to Brady at lisa@biketreasurevalley.org.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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